Monday, November 25, 2019

Conan Goes to Washington

You may have to click through to see this short video:
 I'm not sure how much can safely be read into a fifteen-second video clip, but it does look to me like Willis is right.  As someone who gets along very well with cats and not all that well with dogs (though some dogs are friendly to me anyway), I'm not unsympathetic to Trump in this situation.  Not exactly sympathetic, of course.  And the Secret Service would have had to shoot Conan if he'd gone for the President of the Free World; bad optics!

The responses to Willis's tweet were predictable.  Quite a number were variations on this theme:

Oh, really?  If dogs can detect humans' evil character, how could Mike Pence stroke Conan's ear without losing a finger or two?  One other commenter raised this point; no one so far has responded.

This one, however:
Ah, the stink of liberal homophobia on a mild November afternoon.  "Weird, no?"  No.  "Such an intimate gesture for a man to make to another man?"  Not particularly intimate, and anyway, I watched the clip again: Pence touched the handler's back only fleetingly.  If he'd lingered, caressed, maybe slipped his hand under the man's jacket, Persistent Woman would have had a point.  And I wouldn't be surprised if Pence, like so many antigay fundamentalists, did have something to hide.  As it is, her reaction says a lot more about her than about Pence.

American society is diverse.  Of course some are, but not all straight men are homophobically chary of physical affection with other men.  From what I've seen, there's a lot more affectionate touching between them than is officially supposed to happen.  But also, homophobic societies are likely to permit a great deal of affectionate same-sex touching, going far beyond Pence's gesture in this video. I'd rather encourage it than discourage it, but people like Persistent Woman, by fixating on it and mocking it, however lightly, are not going to discourage it.  I prefer to discourage homophobia.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Smarter Than Mayonnaise

I'm caught up with pretty much everything except reading (which I'll never catch up with), so I've run out of excuses for not writing.  Then the Subway where I ate lunch was tuned to a broadcast of one of those Nuremberg rallies we call American professional football, one of the broadcasters announced that people would stand for the National Anthem, a lugubrious basso began singing it badly, and I had the impetus I needed to push me to the keyboard.

A few weeks ago, the notorious Fasco-American provocateuse Tomi Lahren attempted to mock US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez by tweeting that she -- that is, Lahren -- was going to dress as Ocasio-Cortez for Halloween.
Sensibly, Ocasio-Cortez wasn't offended by Lahren's costume.  She drew attention to Lahren's attempted slur, "former bartender."  Lahren backed down while pretending not to back down:
Responding to critics, a seemingly unphased Lahren refused to back down, tweeting: "I mean this truly and sincerely, being a former bartender is the best and most admirable thing about @AOC."
She lied, of course.  Like most Republicans, she believes that having been a service worker somehow discredits Ocasio-Cortez. But then, so do right-wing Democrats. Numerous AOC fans and supporters pointed out that though elites pretend to care about working people, putting us in our place is one of their go-tos.  They'll usually back down, as Lahren did, when they get called on it, but if they didn't believe it, their ids wouldn't spew out the contemptuous dismissals in the first place.  What it amounts to is that while they value proles in our place, we had better not get too big for our britches by, say, getting elected to Congress.

I've often come up against versions of this pattern myself, from my liberal law-professor friend who refused to recognize that mocking college dropouts was not only invalid, it included me.  "It didn't refer to you," she protested, "You're not a newscaster."  But I am a college dropout, so it did refer to me.

I came up against this same mindset several times earlier, on a university-owned BBS in the 1990s, which was open to university staff, students, and faculty.  Someone would dismiss my opinions by pointing out that I was a dishwasher, what did I know?  Usually some of my friends would defend me as being real smart anyway, and the offender would backtrack and protest that he (it was always a he) totally respected me and would be proud to have me teach his children.  This was still irrelevant, and I don't think I ever got an answer to my follow-up question, which was why, if these people respected me so much, why did they begin with a pointless ad hominem dismissal?  The important thing, I take it, was that they should never actually have to engage with a rational argument.  That's a right guaranteed by the Constitution, you know.

The worst thing about social media, as far as I'm concerned, is not the right-wing loonies, toadies, and thugs who populate it, but the liberal and left loonies, toadies, and thugs who populate it. That's a personal reaction, since both do equal harm to rational discourse, but it bothers me more because the liberals and leftists are supposed to be on my side, my allies and shields against the Trump threat, defenders of reality-based, fact-based discourse in a post-truth world. 

Take my liberal law-professor friend, who posted authoritatively on Facebook just last week that hate speech is not Constitutionally protected.  She was either ignorant or lying, and in either case I'm concerned for her students, just as I am for the students of right-wing bigots who teach in public universities.  Even in the red state where she teaches, even in law school, she may encounter people who disagree with her from the left, the kind of people liberals hate even more than they hate Donald Trump.  I don't know that she'd fail a student who corrected her factual errors, but I'm confident that she'd try to pull rank based on her education and authority as a professor. 

That doesn't work on me: she can't hurt me by giving me a low grade, and I don't even give her the benefit of the doubt anymore.  But it could intimidate her students, and that's not good.   I hope none of them have worked as bartenders, table servers, or in other low-class jobs.

Friday, November 1, 2019

There Was an Old Woman Who Traveled the World

I just read Patti Smith's new book, Year of the Monkey (Knopf, 2019), a memoir of her seventieth year.  I've been following Smith's career since she wrote record reviews for Creem magazine in the early 70s, when she was a poet and not yet a singer, and while I'm ambivalent about her, she's made some great records and I find her very interesting.

Year of the Monkey begins with Smith in San Francisco for a New Year's Eve performance.  She and her guitarist Lenny Kaye had intended to work with their old friend and colleague Sandy Pearlman, but Pearlman didn't show up and they only learned later that he'd had a stroke and was in the hospital in a coma.  (He died the following summer.)  Smith hung around in the Bay area for some time, staying in a motel by the ocean, fretting over Pearlman, trying to work.  As the book goes on, she returns to her home in New York City, prepares for a tour; spends time in Kentucky with the playwright Sam Shepard, who was dying of ALS, helping him to edit the manuscript of what turned out to be his final book; mourns the election of Donald Trump, observes her seventieth birthday.  She recounts dreams and visions and internal conversations with the sign of the Dream Motel, keeps running into a pompous drifter/shaman called Ernest - whose literal existence I somewhat doubt, but hey, Smith is a poet.

Year of the Monkey is an interesting book, though I find her prose unsatisfying. I can't quite put my finger on the problem.  Somehow she writes in such a way that she seems less intelligent than she obviously is.  But what I mainly took away was the realization that Smith was writing as an old woman, a widow with two grown children as well as an artist with decades of achievement.  It says something positive about the changes of the past fifty years that a woman of her age could write about drifting around, staying in cheap motels, finding rides, walking through the desert -- it's the kind of itinerancy that Jack Kerouac dreamed of, but that was traditionally a guy thing, especially a young guy thing. 

Of course Smith is also a settled, financially comfortable adult with an apartment in New York; she's not a hobo, but she has the freedom of movement that is not conventionally associated with women.  It's a picture of an old woman very different than what I find in other old women writers like May Sarton or Doris Grumbach.  I can't imagine either of them packing for a European lecture tour "six Electric Lady T-shirts, six pair of underwear, six of bee socks, two notebooks, herbal cough remedies, my camera, the last packs of slightly expired Polaroid film and one book, Collected Poems of Allen Ginsberg" (page 98).  Aging isn't what it used to be, and what a good thing that is.